Friday, January 22, 2010

Al Filreis

I've begun following Al Filreis's blog. 

O, brave new cyber-world, that has such resources in it!

Filreis is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose English and American and Modern poetry curriculum includes copious notes and explanations of the poetic basics, which I'm cribbing like mad and posting to the Queer Poetry group on Yahoo.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Thoughts on Poetry"

The following is used with the permission of its author, Todd Eliot, with whom I moderate the Yahoo "Queer Poets" group.
Todd was responding to a new group member on the original Gay Poetry group, who had written:

Why is it "poets" frown upon any poem that uses rhyme? Why is it dismissed as "trivial" or "not meaningful"?  These are words I've heard.

 Todd's response closely echoed my own thoughts on the matter.   I'm including it in its entirety:

 (So, I've been reading the posts of late with great interest, and the recent "Randall" series is awesome [as are many of the other pieces here] ... and herewith are my noodlings on the subject of rhyme, prose, poetry, and such-like:)

In younger days, I wrote reams
Of poetry, spun from fears and dreams;
Despising meter I freely ranged,
Piling image on image in compressed prose
Until a day when everything changed
And structure and rhyme before me rose
Like a glittering beacon, a poet's Grail
Before which my previous poems pale.

Yadda, yadda, yadda ... I like rhyme. I like meter, and structure, and the musical use of language ... and it's become more of a challenge for me to express myself within a defined and limited space.

Madeleine L'Engle, in "A Wrinkle in Time," touches on this briefly ... that a sonnet is a defined structure -- and that within its tight confines, one can express anything one wants. That requires craftsmanship. It's "artificial," as any "art form" is.

Craft and art are sometimes innate talents, but both can be developed through various disciplines ... including study of the various types of stanzas, meters, scansions, and other poetic forms. In the long run, writing a non-rhyming poem that still holds a sense of rhythm and brings out a dazzling use of language and imagery (that uses musical devices like consonance, assonance, etc.), is just as difficult as writing one that rhymes. Sometimes classic forms produce poems that are stilted and stiff ... they don't flow. And, just as often, non-rhyming poems can be just an interesting collection of thoughts and images ... but they remain chopped prose.

Either way is difficult ... and when someone really brings off something that speaks to me deeply, s/he has my greatest admiration. Even when people string together rhyming couplets and quatrains (like my example above), the result can be just doggerel (also like my example above).

I don't think it's the use of rhyme that's trivial ... but sometimes rhyme can be concentrated on to the point that something achieves a nice form, but "says" very little.

And, too, there are a lot of lazy "poets" out there who love the idea of being a poet, but don't want to do the hard work of tackling an idea and hammering it into a classic form. It's good that they've developed the discipline of writing regularly, and of developing images, and of playing with language ... but they're either not
ready -- or unwilling -- to challenge themselves further. A discipline takes work and effort. Some of them are moving toward it, and some are content to remain where they are. Those who wrestle with formal poetic concepts usually learn something ... and if they choose to leave them behind, their non-rhyming works are usually made richer for the effort of having explored the discipline.

Picasso was a masterful draftsman who CHOSE to paint as he did because he wanted to explore beyond traditional forms. James Joyce and Samuel Beckett mastered the use of their own languages and traditions before moving onto others, exploring, and returning to explode their native tongues with masterful works that transcended limitations (not "ignored" -- transcended).

In the end, I'm a former "free-verser" who's a formalist at the moment ... and I am free to abandon formalism if it limits me ... or to embrace it if it acts as a lens -- a device that focuses my intent and my ability to express what I want to say. Others began with formalism and moved beyond it and then returned to it ... and so it
goes. In either case, anything that helps someone find his/her own poetic voice is fine by me. It's a process that's as individual as the poet.

Sorry for the length of this ... it's prose, so I've rambled. The poetry version would have been shorter: I would have toiled over selecting just the right words to get the idea across ... to convey as much meaning as possible in the least space. To paraphrase [and mangle] Judson Jerome:  Almost anyone can write a sprawling novel ... short stories are more difficult ... and poetry compresses it all down even more tightly. (That's why poems can pack more emotional wallop than many a long book).

-- T --

And there you have it.  

There's another piece he wrote in response to a member of the older group decrying the lack of responses to the many, many (too many, I think, to take them all in) pieces he'd posted.

But that's a tale for another time, another posting.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Stagnant at Bay

The Stagnant at Bay

(for Robert,
who has heard me
from across the flat
serenely chanting
the poet's mantra,
"fuck fuck fuck fuck
nothing's working
stale crap
die die die
many and many a time --
and still loves me)

When words flow (from the spark
To the brain to the fingers to the page)
And sprawl naked, luxuriating in freedom,
Stirring something deep down to rise up, swelling
To roll in , sweep over, and drench me with wonder at the words
Breaking like foam, then I know there is a muse - who paused
To flirt by blowing in my ear, and winked,
Running a lusty tongue over laughing lips,
Before scampering away with a bounce
And a sly giggle echoing
In her wake.

And when it doesn’t flow
And plops out
In dull leaden drips
That sit in a sodden heap,
And I reach down
And pick up a fistful
Of the sludge,
Sure I can cut
And polish it bright
And bring forth
A gem from a clod of mud.

Mold it as I might,
Tinker with words,
Press it into new forms,
It remains a clumped, cold
Dead thing
Reeking on ice.

And that, my dear,
Is why I hurled a fistful
Of paper snow at you yesterday
When you peeked in to ask,
“How’s the muse treatin’ ya?”
And you looked lovely
As the flakes of my murdered drafts
Drifted down onto your hair
(White on blue-black).

And in your astonished laugh
I heard an echo of the giggle
Of that muse
(The fickle bitch).


c. 2003 Reed Boyer